Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dog Ears #5: Crash

No no, not that CRASH, J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel CRASH. I was drawn to the book to see what longtime fave David Cronenberg was thinking when he adapted Ballard's work for his controversial 1996 film of the same name.

Hitchcock would've loved Deborah Kara Unger

Note to self- it can be dangerous to wonder what David Cronenberg was thinking.

Overall I found the book to be dated, repetitive and sophomoric, and not nearly as hot or disturbing as I expected from a quasi-legendary book of underground erotica. Thankfully it was short, 'cause if I read either of Ballard's favorite words ("glans" and "pubis") one more time I was gonna crash my foot into the book's spine.

After CRASH, I doubt I'll ever read Ballard's EMPIRE OF THE SUN which Spielberg adapted in 1987 (unless I hear good things about it from you of course).

The good news is that the book was chock full of dog-earable words that I'm excited to finally look up, not to mention a turn of phrase or two that aroused my literary side.

p22. "It was not the sexuality of the posture that stayed in my mind, but the stylization of the terrible events that had involved us..."

p39. "At times I had even speculated on the kind of traffic accident in which I would die."*

* I included this quote because it reminded me that during my first stint in Los Angeles (1995-2001) I had a premonition that I would eventually be killed on one of the city's many highways. Thankfully I haven't felt that same foreboding this time around.

p41. buccal |ˈbəkəl| |ˌbəkəl| |ˌbʌk(ə)l|
adjective / technical
of or relating to the mouth : the buccal cavity.
• of or relating to the cheek : the buccal side of the molars.
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from Latin bucca ‘cheek’ + -al.

p42. "Listening in a bored way, the women patients lay in their beds. Two of them were suspended with their legs in traction, as if involved in the fantasies of a demented gymnast."

p50. autogeddon. I assume this word was the creation of the author... it bugged me every time I read it. As far as neologisms go, though, it's pretty weak salsa.

p54. penumbra |peˈnəmbrə| |pəˌnəmbrə| |pɪˌnʌmbrə|
the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object.
• Astronomy the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse.
• Astronomy the less dark outer part of a sunspot, surrounding the dark core.
• any area of partial shade.

p57. vitrified > vitrify |ˈvitrəˌfī| |ˌvɪtrəˈfaɪ| |ˌvɪtrɪfʌɪ|
verb ( -fies, -fied) [ trans. ] (often be vitrified)
convert (something) into glass or a glasslike substance, typically by exposure to heat.

i had to vitrify that glass

p65. invigliator > invigilate |inˈvijəˌlāt| |1nˌvɪdʒəˈleɪt| |ɪnˌvɪdʒɪleɪt|
verb [ intrans. ] Brit.
supervise candidates during an examination.
invigilation |-ˌvijəˈlā sh ən| |1nˈvɪdʒəˌleɪʃən| |-ˌleɪʃ(ə)n| noun
invigilator |-ˌlātər| |1nˌvɪdʒəˈleɪdər| noun

p77. "A week after the inquest she was waiting at the taxi rank of the Oceanic* Terminal as I drove away from Catherine's office."
* LOST fans will enjoy the name of Ballard's fictitious airline.

p99. treadletredl| |ˌtrɛdl| |ˌtrɛd(ə)l|
a lever worked by the foot that imparts motion to a machine.
• any of a row of metal spikes set on an angle on a spring within a plate laid across the entrance or exit of a parking facility, used to prevent drivers from using the facility without paying.

p144. sulcus |ˈsəlkəs| |ˌsəlkəs| |ˌsʌlkəs|
noun / Anatomy
a groove or furrow, esp. one on the surface of the brain.

p148. anneal |əˈnēl| |əˌni(ə)l| |əˌniːl|
verb [ trans. ]
heat (metal or glass) and allow it to cool slowly, in order to remove internal stresses and toughen it.
• Biochemistry recombine (DNA) in the double-stranded form following separation by heat.

p151. columbarium käləmˈbe(ə)rēəm| |ˈkɑləmˌbɛriəm| |ˈkɒl(ə)mˌbɛːrɪəm|
noun ( pl. -baria |-ˈbe(ə)rēə| |ˈkɑləmˌbɛriə|)
a room or building with niches for funeral urns to be stored.
• a niche to hold a funeral urn.
• a stone wall or walk within a garden for burial of funeral urns, esp. attached to a church.
ORIGIN mid 18th cent.: from Latin, literally ‘pigeon house’ .

mummy, where are the pigeons?

p177. invagination |inˌvajəˈ sh ən| |1nˈvødʒəˌneɪʃən| |ɪnˈvadʒɪˌneɪʃ(ə)n|
noun chiefly Anatomy Biology
the action or process of being turned inside out or folded back on itself to form a cavity or pouch.
• a cavity or pouch so formed.

p205. hypogeum |ˌhīpəˈəm| |ˈhaɪpəˌdʒiəm| |ˈhʌɪpə(ʊ)ˌdʒiːəm|
noun ( pl. -gea |-ˈə| |ˈhaɪpəˌdʒiə| |-ˌdʒiːə|)
an underground chamber.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Latin, from Greek hupogeion, neuter of hupogeios ‘underground.’

Monday, August 27, 2007

Death Blog 2000

Yesterday I read a stimulating article in the NY Times about "life lists": lists people make of goals and experiences they want to achieve before they die. I think "death list" has a lot more urgency than "life list", but the point is that writing about these lists has become a cottage industry and I want in.

One of the sources quoted was, a website where you can join "1,217,358" people in making out a list of 43 things you want to do, then see who else shares your aspirations (for instance, 138 people want to learn Hungarian before their ticket is punched).

Instead of writing up a life list, I thought I'd make a blog list of 43 subjects I want to blog about before I expire and/or tire of blogging. So, with no further talk of my inevitable death...

1. The maxims of Nicholas-Sebastien Roch de Chamfort
2. Scrabble
3. Post-structuralism
4. Truisms that aren't true
5. The excuse "Sorry, I've been really busy"
6. Words I hate myself for having to constantly look up
7. "Greatest Hits" from my portfolio of screenplay coverage
8. The importance of a good title to books, movies, TV shows
9. Fantasy Baseball
10. Pascal's Wager
11. Dinosaurs
12. The Inner Game of Tennis

13. Headphones
14. Liner notes
15. Friendship
16. Email etiquette
17. Wishlists
18. Socrates and Plato
19. High school survival stories
20. Ghost stories
21. Solipsism
22. David Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS

25. Deejaying
26. Brooklyn
27. Nihilism
28. Omelettes
29. Homophones & Homonyms
30. Nightmares
31. Mad Libs
32. LSD
33. Memory vs. History
34. Liars
35. Statistics
37. Writing poetry
38. Bad ideas vs. Good ideas
39. The voices inside our heads
40. Snapshots
41. Context
42. Bermuda

43. Love

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Meatspace Odyssey

There was a time when Virtual Reality meant putting goggles and sensors on and running through a Tron-esque maze fleeing pterodactyls or walking through the floorplan of a proposed building. Today we have an entire Virtual World in Second Life, an online universe whose existence I only stumbled upon a few days ago. When a client mentioned that a very real world company has set up shop in Second Life, I pretended I knew what she was talking about then bounced to Wikipedia to look it up after the call was over.

didn't I blow your mind this time? didn't I?

There I learned that "residents" of Second Life refer to our traditional, corporeal world as "meatspace", a term that made me laugh and frown. That lead me to an even more interesting word, one that you may be familiar with but was new to me.

Meatspace is an example of a "Dysphemism", which is defined by The Columbia Guide to Standard American English as:

The process and the result of substituting an ugly or otherwise unpleasant locution for one more attractive in sound or meaning are both called dysphemism, of which the World War I sailors’ name for tapioca pudding, fisheye soup, is a graphic and printable example. Dysphemism is an antonym of euphemism.

That's mighty fine fish-eye soup Admiral.

So basically, you use a dysphemism when you want to make a neutral term sound awful or extreme. Instead of saying "I was thrilled when the Angels defeated the Yankees 18-9", I'd say "I was thrilled when the Angels annihilated the Yankees 18-9." That dude is dumb as a box of rocks... this coffin nail is really refreshing... etc etc.

Here's an entertaining read on the concept of the "Dysphemism Treadmill" from Wikipedia:

Similar to the concept of the euphemism treadmill, a complementary “dysphemism treadmill” exists, but is more rarely observed. In these cases, notions of profanity, obscenity and other words once called “offensive” are later described as “objectionable,” then “questionable,” and in some cases, they reach near or outright acceptability.

One modern example is the word “sucks.” “That sucks” began as American slang for “that is very unpleasant,” and is the shortened version of “that sucks cock/dick.” It developed over the late-20th century from being an extremely vulgar phrase to mainstream slang. (The origin of the intransitive usage, “sucks,” is disputed and may derive from more innocuous slang. See the archived discussions of The American Dialect Society. The same may be said of the use of “screw,” often used as slang for sexual intercourse (and a euphemism for “fuck”), in such usages as “to screw up” (to make a major mistake).)

Sometimes a term will go from being a euphemism to being a dysphemism and then go back to being a euphemism. “Queer” and “gay,” for example, both started as euphemisms for “homosexual,” and then got on the euphemism treadmill and became insults—but are now the preferred adjectives amongst the gay community themselves.

If anyone calls me a tub of lard again, I'll put my flipper in their ass.

I imagine that "Dysphemism Treadmill" is a great cocktail party subject. I can almost see a board game...

Anyway, next time you're considering using a played-out euphemism like "Kitty went to live on a farm", know that you can always go the opposite direction and say that "Kitty is worm food now."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dog Ears #4: From Hell

After thoroughly enjoying Alan Moore's WATCHMEN, the first graphic novel I'd read in a decade, I walked to my local comic shop House of Secrets to see what else Mr. Moore had to offer. I decided on FROM HELL, Moore's epic collaboration with artist Eddie Campbell on the Jack the Ripper murders that was originally published in serial comic book form in 1989. The hefty version I bought includes the entire series, and its nearly 600 page length includes appendices that had been published after the original run up until 1998.

"Will no one help the Widow's son?"

The helpful clerk pointed out that it was imperative for full comprehension to flip to the back and read each chapter's description in the appendix after you've read the chapter. At the time I thought the guy was just nerding out, but I quickly found his advice to be spot on. FROM HELL is a dense, multilayered, and chilling tale, and the inspired leaps of imagination in concert with painstaking research from the writer and illustrator results in one of the most thought-provoking reads I've encountered in some time. Flipping back to the appendix after reading each chapter was not a chore, but a revelatory trip into history and the authors' creative process.

This time, instead of selecting prose and words of interest from the graphic novel itself, I wanted to examine the dog ears of the appendices instead. I think you'll get a good feel for the material this way.

Appendix 1, Page 1 (or 1.1)
ex gratia: as an act of grace; out of one's favor

The Fabian Society: a British socialist intellectual movement, whose purpose is to advance the socialist cause by gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning in the late 19th century and then up to World War I. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party during this period; subsequently, it affected the policies of newly independent British colonies, especially India, and is still in existence today.

Jah-Bul-On (or Jahbulon): a word which was used historically in some rituals of Royal Arch Masonry. In addition, according to Francis X. King, the word is used in rituals of the Ordo Templi Orientis, as Aleister Crowley had contact with various clandestine Masonic groups. There has been much debate over the origin and meaning of this word; and there is no consensus even among Masonic researchers as to the meaning of the word. The word's meaning and legitimacy is unclear. One Masonic scholar alleges that the word first appeared in an early 18th Century Royal Arch ritual, as the name of an allegorical explorer searching for the ruins of King Solomon's Temple; while another Masonic scholar believes it is a descriptive name for God in Hebrew; other, non-Masonic, authors have alleged that it is a Masonic name for God, and even the name of a unique "Masonic God". It is this last interpretation that has led to debates about and condemnation of Freemasonry by several religious groups.

was Hogarth satirizing medical cruelty or revealing Masonic ritual?

Necronaut: The International Necronautical Society is a semi-fictional organisation devoted to exploring the concept of death and spatial analogies, closely modelled on European avant-gardes of the 20th century. It has mounted several events at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The June 2004 edition of Art Monthly ran a feature on the INS, which claimed that: "The INS models itself on the modernist avant-gardes. It even mimics their ideological disputes; a year ago McCarthy, remembering André Breton, ejected most of the founding members. But it also plays, with its "General Secretary", its "hearings" and "reports", on the terminology and protocol of the Kafkaesque bureaucracy."

Dionysiac Architects: an ancient secret society, its principles and doctrines much like the modern Freemasonic Order. They were an organization of builders bound together by their secret knowledge of the relationship between the earthly and the divine sciences of architectonics. They were supposedly employed by King Solomon in the building of his Temple, although they were not Jews, nor did they worship the God of the Jews, being followers of Bacchus and Dionysos. The Dionysiac Architects erected many of the great monuments of antiquity. They possessed a secret language and a system of marking their stones. They had annual convocations and sacred feasts. The exact nature of their doctrines is unknown.

corpus callosum: a structure of the mammalian brain in the longitudal fissure that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. It is the largest white matter structure in the brain, consisting of 200-250 million contralateral axonal projections. It is a wide, flat bundle of axons beneath the cortex. Much of the inter-hemispheric communication in the brain is conducted across the corpus callosum

Diabolism n.
1. Dealings with or worship of the devil or demons; sorcery.
2. Devilish conduct or character.

William Blake painted this creature after, he says, it materialized in front of him.

Theosophism: "any of various philosophies professing to achieve a knowledge of God by spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual revelation; esp. a modern movement following Hindu and Buddhist teachings, and seeking universal brotherhood."

Bavarian Illuminati: The Illuminati is the name used for several groups, both real and fictitious. Most commonly it refers specifically to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment secret society founded in the late eighteenth century. However, in modern times it refers to a purported shadowy conspiratorial organization which is reputed to secretly control world affairs, usually a modern incarnation or continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. In this context, Illuminati is often used in reference to a New World Order (NWO). Many Conspiracy theorists believe the Illuminati (The People of The Light), or illuminated ones, are the masterminds behind events that will lead to a New World Order.

Order of the Golden Dawn
: The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn) was a magical order of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, practicing a form of theurgy and spiritual development. It was probably the single greatest influence on twentieth century western occultism. Concepts of magic and ritual that became core elements of many other traditions, including Wicca,[1][2] Thelema and other forms of magical spirituality popular today, are drawn from the Golden Dawn tradition.

cthonic (or chthonic)
1. (Greek mythology) Of or pertaining to the underworld.
2. Dwelling within or under the earth.

One final note: never saw the Hughes Brothers film version of FROM HELL starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, but remember very mixed reviews. Any thoughts on whether or not its worth my time would be appreciated.

Monday, August 6, 2007

OK Children, What Does It All Mean?

The search for meaning in the art and entertainment we consume can be a frustrating one. Not only are there countless possible interpretations, but there are countless possible misinterpretations too. And the horrible/wonderful thing about it is that none of them can definitively said to be right or wrong. Even if the artist or creator has gone on record speaking in no uncertain terms about what the theme or moral of the story/song/painting is, one has to consider the possibility that revisionist history, self-mythologization, or garden variety ego may be at work.

I find it liberating to accept that you can never really know for sure what you are meant to take away from the experience of consuming (for lack of a better word) someone else's art. More than that, I believe you can never really know for sure what "The One True Interpretation" is of art that you yourself have created.

don't let the glasses fool you- he doesn't know the meaning of THE MEANING OF LIFE.

It should go without saying that all art is not created equal, and the spectrum of possible interpretations varies wildly from the Pretty Damn Obvious to the Pretty Damn Ambiguous, but I said it anyway.

I sometimes miss the spirited and free-form discussions that would sometimes pop up after a trip to the movies back in college. It's not necessarily that any of us knew what we were talking about, but more the "state your thesis and support it" mindset that most of us were in that fostered some lively deconstructions of what films like DO THE RIGHT THING, NAKED LUNCH, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO and, shit, even BASIC INSTINCT were really trying to say.

Back then I was more inclined to think in terms of "right" or "wrong" responses and interpretations, but now I've swung into the "there are no wrong answers" camp. There are no wrong answers, because the only message interpretation that matters is the individual's.

even horn-rimmed glasses can't totally be trusted.

As much as we would like to believe that "universal truths" put our minds at ease by erasing those troubling gray areas, there are precious few universal interpretations and zillions of idiosyncratic ones.

This train of thought was boarded after watching TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967), a multifaceted and avant-garde (in the best and worst sense) exploration of marriage directed by Stanley Donen and featuring an Oscar-nominated script by Frederic Raphael.

Without going in to too much detail, the film revolves around a series of road trips made by married couple Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. The trips span the time from their first chance meeting to their bitter contemplation of divorce, and are shuffled together in nonlinear fashion à la PULP FICTION to maximize the effect of the reveals from each sequence. Side note: fans of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY will notice more than a few "inspirations" taken from ROAD.

The voice-over on the film's contemporary trailer featured on the DVD touted the couple as two lovers who "made something wonderful out of being alive!", but my interpretation was radically different.

I can't say precisely why, but I'm more inclined to believe sunglass-wearers.

Mrs. Word Player had a third read on the film's themes and messages, and quickly had a fourth when we pulled our yellowing copy of Baseline's MOVIE GUIDE off the shelf. I considered looking up the bios of Donen and Raphael to see if their personal histories would support or detract from my theory, but decided against it.

What the movie "meant" had already registered, and despite my affection for ROTTEN TOMATOES, no canvas of the critical response was going to appreciably change how I felt.

Does TWO FOR THE ROAD have something compelling to say about marriage in general? About marriage in the 1960s? About Frederic Raphael's views on marriage? About the marriage that evolved organically after the creation of these two characters? About what Hollywood thinks about marriage? Would we feel differently about the outcome of the marriage if the wife had been played by Judy Dench instead of Audrey Hepburn? Is it empty of thematic value at all, being just a movie meant strictly to entertain and titillate by any means necessary?

What is the "message" of ROMEO AND JULIET? I would wager that that play has "inspired" or "justified" more suicides than the combined lyrics of all heavy metal and rock songs combined, but would anyone consider adding a warning label to Shakespeare or not teaching the play to kids Romeo's age?

The truth hurts. Life is complicated. Motives are murky.
The truth will set you free. Life is simple. Motives are transparent.

It's all relative.

Or is it?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Blind Spot Faith

I strongly disagree with the maxim that one "can never be too rich or too thin", but I'm on the fence about whether you can become too well-read, too musically well-listened or too cinematically well-viewed. On one hand, there's only so many hours in a life, and the more "completist" one becomes in any one category of audio/visual consumption seemingly has to mean neglect of the others (not to mention its impact on human relationships).

But on the other, can't the quixotic* impulse to read all the great books or listen to all the great music or see all the great movies be an enormously productive and propulsive inclination to give in to?

I've never heard of anyone dedicated to somehow working all the great jobs the world has to offer, and really, aren't we spending such an inordinate amount of our life working to ensure that we'll always be able to afford the relative sliver spent reading, watching movies or listening to music?

why are people always better looking in b&w?

All of this began bouncing 'round my coconut while reading "An Appreciation" of recently deceased Italian director Michelangeo Antonioni in the Calendar section of today's LA TIMES. As Death would have it, the 94 year-old Antonioni died July 30, a single day after the death of 89 year-old Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, another giant of world cinema.

When the I-have-no-say-in-this-free-association ball stopped bouncing, I was surprised to be thinking of Austrian director Fred Zinneman.

Way back in 1996, I was working as the development and personal assistant to British director Michael Radford. It was a very mercurial job: BEFORE the Nominations for the 68th Academy Awards were announced, Radford was "the guy who directed the 80's version of 1984". AFTER that very early morning in January, when Miramax wrung an amazing five Oscar nominations (including one for Best Director) out of Radford's Italian-language film IL POSTINO, Radford became a far different entity altogether.

Harvey and Bob spun gold out of Troisi's tragic death.

Perhaps I'll go into detail about working for Radford some other day, but for now it was our exchange about Fred Zinneman that's important.

I went to a screening last night of HIGH NOON. Have you ever seen High Noon?

Ah, actually, no. I've read a lot about it and--

Do you even know who Fred Zinneman is?

Well, to be honest, no. Should I?

Saying that was a HUGE tactical error.

Are you SERIOUS? I can't believe it!
What are they teaching you over here?
Fred Zinneman is only the most...

Needless to say, I was wishing I hadn't picked a ninth viewing of HOLY GRAIL or BLAZING SADDLES** over renting the 1952 Western starring Gary Cooper.

But as my face turned redder and he had his fun scoffing my ignorance, I got to thinking about all the great films in the canon I HAD seen. And then I wondered how many if-you-haven't-seen-it-you're-clearly-a-dilettante-poseur films a twentysomething assistant was SUPPOSED to have seen.

And that feeling has stuck with me over the years.

Because I loathe it when someone gives me the exaggerated "I'm SHOCKED and DISAPPOINTED!" eye bulge when they hear I haven't read this or I'm not familiar with that, I pledged to cut the people I encounter a little slack when I discover they've gone their entire lives without experiencing first-hand a record or film that I hold dear.

As you may know, that approach ain't always easy.

Steering this behemoth back towards the point, the above decade-old conversation resurfaced because as I read Antonioni's obit, I realized that I'd only seen two of the movies he'd directed in his 60 years behind the camera- L'AVVENTURA (1960) and BLOW UP (1966). Bergman? Only one, 1957's THE SEVENTH SEAL.

"Mongo is but pawn in game of life."

Does this reveal mean I should be stripped of my Movie Buff status? Or should I be glad that I have virtually the entire filmography of two master directors yet to explore and (perhaps) enjoy?

I vote for the latter. Maybe someone admitting (under duress or otherwise) that blind spots exist in their personal experience of ANY medium should be seen as a happy occasion to turn someone on to the shit they NEED to see, toute de suite.

After all, we've all got 'em. Imagine the shattering despondence someone (a vampire?) might feel when they turned the final page of the last really good book on Earth that they hadn't read. The confession of a Blind Spot is a good indicator that someone's still alive.

After all, they easily could have lied about it to you and changed the subject.

*Full disclosure: I haven't even read Cervates' DON QUIXOTE, even though "quixotic" is one of my favorite words.

** When I finally did see
HIGH NOON, I was stunned to discover that Mel Brooks copied its structure almost scene for scene for BLAZING SADDLES. So there.